Thoughts from a Warrior Mom

The phone rings. It’s 3:30am and as I pick up the receiver, I’m already thinking bad things. What goes on in a person’s mind when they think they’re going to hear really horrible news in the middle of the night?

“I cannot do this,” I thought. “It can’t be, no, wait, I’m not ready.”

And then I hear a recording, not a human voice: “Your credit card has been frozen, Press 1 if you want to unlock it.” I slam down the phone and feel relief mixed with confusion and then anger. The pulse in my ears is loud. I’m shocked to feel how fast my heart is beating.

My son is in a war zone.

He is a Marine. Marines go to dangerous places. They say that the worst time is just before they leave on deployment. The waiting and the anticipation is dreadful. You say goodbye and wonder. You try not to cry but you do.

Afghanistan:  Not for sissies or sissy families.

After getting back into bed, trying to settle down from the adrenaline surge that ran through my body, I think about how silly my worries are. If something really bad happened, the Marines would not call me, they would come to the front door in their dress blues. But then they would not come in the middle of the night. And they would call Julia, not me, if he were injured. They call the wives first if they are injured. And then she would call me.

I tell myself it’s okay to go back to sleep: He’s safe, you’re safe, your world did not dissolve in a moment. And then I feel outrage that a phone can ring in the middle of the night.

My IED is the phone, the doorbell. The phone should not ring in the dark of night for military families.

Unusual things occur before deployments happen.

I was working on a base in Japan and one day I was shopping in the Commissary and the Stars & Stripes newspaper caught my eye. Normally I didn’t read it but that day, I thought, I’ll just take a look and see what’s up.

The cover story was about a Marine unit in Afghanistan. Immediately I recognized it as the area where Rob was going to be based. It’s the most violent area in Afghanistan right now.   Twenty-four Marines killed in the last four months.

I kept hearing a voice in my head that said, “Stop reading this, Jo, close the paper, put it back on the rack and walk away. Now.”

But I’m not able to stop myself from reading: “The Taliban seem to know who the 1st lieutenants are and that’s who they’re going for first. And because of the IEDs there have been multiple loss of limbs.”

Jo, you need to walk away, NOW.

The part of me that wanted to keep reading trumped the part that said STOP. As I got to the end, I watched myself fold the paper, put it back on the rack and walk out of the commissary. Who is this woman, this mother who is so detached and calm? The observer part of me said, “Aren’t you even going to freak out now?” Nope. I’m going to go back to work. I’m gonna keep going. What else is there to do?

This is not my first deployment as a mom. Andrew, my oldest son, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008. It was hair-raising at times, but we all survived. I learned a lot about letting go of control during those eight months.

One day I received a call that his humvee had been hit by an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) burned to a crisp and that my son escaped with three other Marines without injury. Fear in those kinds of moments for a mother transforms into gratitude. I felt gratitude in my deepest core. I don’t know how, but my son escaped without a scratch.

What I didn’t know until he was home was that after he got out of the humvee, the Taliban fired viciously at the four of them, and they were without cover, bullets whizzing by their heads. Because of a very brave 21 year old Marine, my son is alive today.

Brady, the young Marine in the turret, kept firing to give the Marines trapped by the humvee a chance, and lost his leg that day in the fire fight.

That was three years ago. And now my youngest is there. In the most dangerous place anywhere you can find in the world. Instead of fear, I drift back in my memory to the beautiful day last August with the sea and waves crashing in the background, Rob and Julia, just married, jumping up into the air, supercharged with happiness on the best day of their lives. We were all carefree that day. We had the time of our lives. We truly lived that day.

And this is what I am learning.

You must live full. With abandon. You must love the moments you have. And you must be grateful. You must let go of fear and control. And know that life is so very fragile.


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